Tag Archives: UK Politics

Governance – the Preface

For some years I have been gradually collecting the material for a book on governance: a book which explores ways in which a 21st century UK could be governed to the general advantage of all its people. Because I am getting on now and with a number of what are euphemistically known as “health issues” there is a real question mark over whether or not it will be written – especially as I intend to continue to support Marcia with my weekly Friday blog about life with a novelist plus there are four more parts of the five part series I am writing as companions to her novels. Anyway, putting all of that to one side, there is one thing I feel we need to take on board as a nation if we are to survive as a free country during what I believe will be difficult times: difficult because of two major issues: we are running out of natural resources and vast numbers of people in places like India and China are entering in the ‘developed world’  (and there is no reason why they should not) which will – is – changing the way the world’s trade operates and not always to our advantage. In simple terms that ‘thing’ is to face up to where we, the human race, came from. Most people will not want to know (will, indeed, refuse to accept) these truths and will prefer to cling to political thinking that is based on an entirely false view of mankind. Such thinking has been in fashion for a whisker over two hundred years out of man’s history which stretches back over many hundreds of thousands of years but already many are beginning to question the results. This ‘thing’ is the subject of the preface to the book yet to be written. Here is what it has to say.


Man is the dominant species on earth. That fact – and how it came about – has a huge impact on the environment, it has a huge impact on all other species and it has a huge impact on our relationships with each other. In short, it has a huge impact on politics and on governance for it is the way in which we are ruled and the way in which our rulers are selected (or self-selected) that determine whether or no those relationships create generally benign or generally malign outcomes.

What is extremely odd is that most of our political thinking for over a century has been based on a model of man (and throughout this book I would ask you to accept that ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ cover everyone regardless of gender, race, religious belief or any other matter that divides people) that bears little similarity with reality. Thus before we even start talking about governance, we need to try to work out what sort of animal man is. Then we can look at the best way for men to relate to each other.

I suppose it all started for me when I read African Genesis by Robert Ardrey many, many years ago – probably 1962 shortly after it was published. The opening paragraph sets the scene.

“Not in innocence, and not in Asia, was mankind born. The home of our fathers was that African highland reaching north from the Cape to the lakes if the Nile. Here we came about – slowly, ever so slowly – on a sky-swept savannah glowing with menace.”

Ardrey, born in Chicago in 1908, attended the University of Chicago where he studied anthropology and behavioural sciences but then turned to the writing of plays for the theatre and the screen at which, I should add, he was extremely good. But then, in the 1950’s, his interest in anthropology was re-awakened by the reports of work by two groups of people: one was scrabbling around in the earth hunting fossils and the other was carrying out long and careful observations of animal behaviour in the wild.

It was Raymond Dart – the Australian anthropologist and anatomist – who, having discovered the first fossil of an ancient hominid that he named Australopithecus africanus (the South African Ape) in 1924, started to question received wisdom: that man had arisen in Asia and had done so thanks to his giant brain. The Tuangs skull (the skull was found near a small town called Tuangs in the North West Province of South Africa) suggested otherwise. As more and more fossils were uncovered, it became clear that this hominid was carnivorous, a hunter with a particular predilection for baboon flesh – and one with a small brain. The world of science was not willing to release its hold on the ‘big brain out of Asia’ model and controversy was still raging when Dart retired in 1958.

Meanwhile other work being carried out in the 1920’s was to result in a profound discovery. Few people have heard of the British bird watcher Eliot Howard although he was considered to be the leading authority on warblers. That was to change with the publication of Territory in Birdlife in which Howard explained that a lifetime of observation proved to him that male birds do not fight over females: the fight over property. It would seem that it Howard was the first person to use the word territory in a zoological context.

Clarence Carpenter, an American primatologist of much the same age as Ardrey, proved by years of patient observation of chimpanzees and monkeys in the wild that amongst these, our closest living relatives, territoriality – in this case social territoriality – is universal.

Another important link in the chain was Robert Broom, one of the world’s greatest zoologists. In 1936, at the age of seventy, he was to discover the skull, teeth and brain case of an adult Australopithecus africanus. This enabled Broom to confirm all the projections that Dart had made from the fragments of the infant skull from Tuangs. Digging at Sterkfontein stopped shortly after war broke out and it was not until 1946 that Broom could get back to work. More and more fossils were found and eventually, Sir Arthur Keith (the British anthropologist) joined those who dropped all opposition to Dart’s theories.

Amongst this select band it is probable that Dr L S B Leakey was the most famous. Over many years he worked in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanganyika with Mary, his wife, uncovering hundreds of hominid fossils including, in 1959, the first maker of stone tools.

Ardrey realised that his class – the Class of 1930 – knew nothing of this work and, as a result, sought the attractions of a classless state peopled by men defined by characteristics that simply do not exist.

Thus it was the great thinkers and writers who have had great influence on the way we think about ourselves, about human society and about governance built the most complex and fascinating theories on foundations of shifting sand. I am thinking of men such as Thomas Jefferson (the main author of the American Declaration of Independence), Adam Smith (the Scottish political philosopher), Karl Marx (the revolutionary socialist) and, of course, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Contemporary wisdom had it that we were descended from peaceful and almost entirely vegetarian apes who might, on occasion, take a mouthful of some succulent insect – and that we became what we are because, by some mutation, we developed an enormous brain which enabled us to become what we are. In those days nothing was known of the drive to gain, maintain and defend the exclusive right to some piece of real estate now familiar to most of us (thanks in large part to people such as Sir David Attenborough whose television programmes bring nature into our homes) as territoriality. They did not know that chimpanzees are far from being vegetarian but actively hunt and kill smaller animals including monkeys – their close cousins. They did not know how important to all social animals is the sense of hierarchy: the drive to dominate and if that is not successful the willingness to be dominated. They did not know that both territoriality and, in social animals, rank are what drives males – not sex as was commonly believed (a belief based on observations of animals in zoos unable to exercise their normal instincts. They did not know that the human drive to acquire property and possessions is based on animal instincts that pre-dates man by many millions of years. They did not know that (and here I quote Ardrey) “status-seekers are responding to animal instincts equally characteristic of baboons, jackdaws, rock cod, and men”.

They did not know the first man was a killer – an armed killer – and that it was the computing power needed properly to control his weapons that led to the big brain. Nor did they know how powerful are the genetic instructions we receive from our DNA, instructions that we obey unknowingly and without thought even though they had their birth millions of years ago.

Today, however, we do know these things. You do not have to take my word for it (some of the works mentioned in the appendix will offer you substantial proof) and this is not the place to demonstrate those truths. However, we should always bear in mind that there are going to be new discoveries that will (as they always do) make us question some of our assumptions and think again about our responses.

Another quote from Ardrey: “Man is a primate. All primates are social animals. As social animals, all primates have developed to one degree or another such instinctual bundles as guarantee the survival of their societies. There is no reason to believe that man in his African genesis inherited from primate ancestors a bundle less complex.”

Suffice to say that this book is based on the fact that man is where he is in the world today because he has very sharp elbows, is totally ruthless and is a typical social animal: where the society in which he lives is highly territorial and those living within it are for ever striving for rank, possessions, celebrity – and tribal (national) status which is almost always expressed in terms of military power. Why else would we retain nuclear weapons when all know that their deployment would result in the annihilation of humanity? As a deterrent – and one we know to be false?

There would be no need for this book were it not for something quite incredible. Although so much is now known about the way social animals behave and interact and control their societies, the image of mankind that was fostered by men such as those I listed above remains the model for all politicians when they try to determine policies or control events.

The result, as my wife so often says, is that politics don’t work.

So what can we do? What should we do? These questions are probably unanswerable although I shall do what little I can to address them. If answers are to be found, answers which marry our modern desire for open, compassionate and democratic societies with our inbuilt instincts for survival and domination there is only one thing that can be certain: they must be based on man as he is and not man as we would have that he was. In short, they must be based on truth.

It is over fifty years since I read African Genesis (which was followed by The Territorial Imperative and The Social Contract). It is not that after fifty years I have come to any firm conclusions but rather that I think there may be something worthwhile in looking at politics from a very different view point and I am now old enough to be indifferent to either praise or criticism and so am able to express views that I know will be considered by some (especially those on the extremes be that left or right) to be anathema. Here are some of those views to indicate what I mean.

  • Men are not born equal

  • Striving to create equality is a waste of time and energy

  • It follows that equality of opportunity cannot exist

  • Life is not fair (which is not to deny that very British concept: fair play).

  • Men and women are different: they offer different skill sets and both skill sets are equally valuable and should be equally valued. There are, of course, some skill sets that are common to both sexes and there are some men whose skill sets are more the norm amongst women and vice versa.

  • Man has no rights. If he is lucky he lives in a society where, in return for meeting certain responsibilities, he will be able to enjoy certain benefits.

The time has come to see where this leads us. Welcome to a journey where we shall encounter many more questions than we shall answers and where the few answers that we do trip over will suggest actions which, paradoxically thanks to man’s innate characteristics, many would reject as either impossible or immoral.


Once again people are talking about “those who voted for a coalition” completing over-looking the fact that nobody did – they all voted for the candidate of their choice or (far too often and very sadly) decided that they wouldn’t vote at all.  It is tempting to assume that these are people who are abrogating their responsibilities as good citizens but we should spare a thought for those who, after long and hard deliberation, decide that they are not prepared to endorse any of the available  candidates.

Anyway, just for the record, I reproduce below a blog I put up shortly after the election in 2010. It may be of interest so here it is.

I want to try to find the answer two questions. Who actually determined the outcome of the last general election which was to result in a coalition? Who actually determined the candidates who became MP’s?

Before looking at some answers, the following may be of interest.

650 seats were contested meaning that to hold a majority a party needed 326 seats. No party contested all of the seats: by a remarkable coincidence the three main parties all fielded 631 candidates.

10,703,754 people voted for the Conservatives giving them 306 seats (47.1%) and 36.1% of the votes.

8,609,527 people voted for Labour giving them 258 seats (39.7%) and 29% of the votes.

6,836,824 people voted for the LibDems giving them 57 seats (8.8%) and 23% of the votes.

If we convert the ratio of votes cast to seats Conservatives should have had 234 seats, Labour 189 and the LibDems 150 with the remaining 77 going to the other parties (who actually gained 22). These ‘others’ included the Nationalist Parties of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales plus one member for the Green Party. This would have resulted in a coalition but it would have included the Labour party rather than the Conservatives (assuming that the LibDems would have felt happier being in coalition with Labour rather than Conservative).

Out of an electorate of 45,597,461 the votes counted were 29,687.604 (65%). There were a further 303,867 votes but these were on ‘spoiled papers’.

Now to look at who determined this outcome. To start with I decided to look at any seat won by one of the three main parties where the majority was less than 2,000. That is, of course, an arbitrary figure and I later realised it was the wrong one to choose but I decided you might like to share my thought processes.

65 seats fell into that category – 10% of the total. Here are the figures.

  • Seats won by Conservatives with Labour in second place: 20 with 17.567 votes.
  • Seats won by Labour with Conservatives in second place: 18 with 18,680 votes.
  • Seats won by Labour with LibDems in second place: 9 with 6,630 votes.
  • Seats won by Conservatives with LibDems in second place: 7 with 4,848 votes
  • Seats won by LibDems with Labour in second place: 5 with 7,141 votes.
  • Seats won by LibDems with Conservatives in second place: 4 with 3,061 votes.

As you can see, these continue to support the view that some voters have far more power than others. Conservatives beat Labour 20 times with a total majority of 17,567. Had ‘voter power’ been equal, the 18,680 majority in favour of Labour would have produced 21 seats and not 18.

The only plausible difference would have been for Conservatives to have gained 20 more seats thus avoiding the need to enter into a coalition and so all we need to consider is the most marginal 20 seats. These include the 4 seats taken by the LibDems where the majorities were 3,061. The other 16 seats would have had to come from Labour so we can discount 2 of the results. The majority in the other 16 seats was 15,073.

So there we have it, 18,134 voters determined that we should have a coalition (not that they would have thought about it in those terms, of course. Nobody – but nobody – voted with the intention of creating a coalition). Interestingly, it would not have mattered for what other candidate this group voted (or none). Take those votes away from those 4 LibDems and 16 Labour candidates and there would have been a Conservative government, albeit with the tiniest imaginable majority.

In percentage terms 0.62% of those who voted actually made a difference. If you prefer, this is 0.04% of all those entitled to vote.

Now for question number two. In the best case scenario, a candidate is chosen by a democratic vote. My best research seems to indicate that party membership in any constituency rarely exceeds 200. Since that may be a bit low, we will work on 500. 500 people in each of the 20 marginal seats where the result of the last election was determined involved in selecting their candidate means that only 10,000 selected those 20 MP’s and I suspect the figure to be far lower than that and I could choose many examples of events that fuel that suspicion.

The selection of Gloria de Piero as Labour PPC for Ashfield (following the announcement that Geoff Hoon was standing down) was mired in controversy. This is not a problem confined to the Labour Party. As the Daily Mail reported in February 2010, the relationship between the Conservative Association in Surrey East and David Cameron became somewhat strained over the matter of selecting a candidate.

So there we have it. In this much prized democracy the vast majority of us have no say in which party will take power and even less when it comes to the people who grace the green benches in the House of Commons.


A Parliament for England

Let’s Google “English Parliamentary Party” and see what we come up with.

First up: the English Democratic Party. They call themselves “the official democratic Party of England” but I cannot see who gave them the right to call themselves that. They have just issued a news release in response to the result of the vote in Scotland.

Here is a flavour of what is said on their web site: “The English Democrats commiserate with the Yes campaign and the Scottish National Party and Alex Salmond on the disappointing result of the Scottish Independence Referendum. They should however be congratulated on an excellent campaign against all the lies and propaganda and dirty tricks put up by the British Political and Media Establishment. The abiding memory for the People of England of the Scottish Referendum will be the sight of senior “British” politicians demonstrating again and again and again that they have no interest in properly representing English interests, England or the English Nation and every intention of selling us down the river.”

Now, I don’t know about you but that really is a turn off for me. However, let us move on a bit. ‘Robin Tilbrook, the Chairman of the English Democrats said:- “It is now England’s turn to be heard and the English Democrats have every confidence that the People of England will reject the shabby deal concocted by the Unionist Westminster elite in a conspiracy against English interests. This was rushed through for the purpose of subverting the democratic process in the Yes/No Scottish Referendum after the same gang had refused to allow the Devo-max option to actually be put on the ballot paper. The Westminster elite has shown itself to be utterly self-interested, dishonest, undemocratic and unfit to run our country. So far as England is concerned the English Democrats call upon all those who care about England to block the implementation of “Devo-max” until exactly the same is offered for the whole of England as a national unit.’

Here I admit he says a couple of things with which I agree although I still find the tone tasteless. The question is, “would I be prepared to join this party?” and I fear that the answer, having explored their web site is, “no”. You may care to check it out for yourself. http://www.englishdemocrats.org.uk/

Next up (we are on page 2 now because there are lots of lists of parties which ae of no great interest) is the English People’s Party. These have a WordPress blog site (and there is nothing wrong with that – this is a WordPress blog site) but the last post was dated May 9 last year. I think we can safely say this is not the way to go.

On to page 4 and we find the BNP which (and I hope you agree with this) should receive the least possible publicity. Next item takes us to a group calling itself Progressonline. Good name and it says some interesting things – but they all date back to 2011 or earlier. Oh dear, oh dear.

Page 5: nothing. Page 6: England’s Parliamentary Party (silent since 2008). Page 8: nothing and the same for 9 and 10. Enough. We can draw a conclusion here.

There is no viable group capable of uniting the people of the four nations in a way that they need to be united in order to establish a four-nation federation which – at least in my view – is the only sensible and doable way forward following the Scottish vote and the wild promises made by politicians of all colours: promises made with no reference to the view of the electorate of these four nations.

So we need to create one.

So we have.

Here’s the link – www.englishparliamentaryparty.com – but it doesn’t take you to anything more than a few ideas that need to be thrown around and thought about. That’s where you come in, if you want to.

Time for a federal UK?

This is bravado – it has to be since in a few days time there will be a referendum ion Scotland that may change everything. Or not, of course. Except that it will – it really can’t help itself. Anyway, here is a proposal for you to think about.

First – if Scotland votes “No”.

Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, on 01.01.2015 the House of Commons becomes the English Parliament and in it sits the existing English MP’s. Excluding the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office they take over the entire structure of government in Westminster and Whitehall. So far no costs have been incurred.

It is up to the Scots, the Welsh and those in Northern Ireland to decide what they do with their elected MP’s.

We then create a Federal Assembly to whom the MoD and the FO report. I suggest this should contain 74 members: 64 elected by the English Assembly from their elected members, 5 for the Scots, 3 for Wales and 2 for NP. That is on a basis of one member per million of the national populations (rounded UP for the smaller nations and DOWN for England). Again how the other nations appoint/elect their members would be up to them. This assembly meets as required in the HoL chamber and takes over the entire structure of Mod and the FO. Still no great cost.

Some matters should be dealt with on a federal basis but are presently not in either of those two departments. Those functions could be transferred – the border control from Home Office to the MoD, say, complete with the Border Agency. Still no great cost.

There may be a few other institutions that would have to work with the federal assembly but the only one I can think of is the Bank of England.

Meanwhile all the four national assemblies from that date have equal powers including the power to raise whatever taxes they like. Call it devo-max for all. Each would contribute as needed to the federal coffers (and I can see some interesting arguments between the four as to the level of each contribution) but how they raise that is up to the national assemblies.

I am, of course, assuming that the Welsh and those in Northern Ireland would welcome this move.

Second if Scotland votes “Yes”.

Much as above. Scotland would be invited to become a member of the Federation known as the UK from day one and would probably accept. If, however, they refused then it really is the end of the road with them. All that belongs to the UK is brought south and a proper border with all the usual controls is created and the Federation has only three members – and that federation would tell Scotland what was on the table – there would be no negotiations. There would be no purpose in them. Meanwhile, the possibility of Scotland joining the UK as a new member should remain on the table.

What’s not to like? It’s simple, it offers what most people seem to be saying they now want and it would not cost a great deal nor would it add any further to the required civil service/bureaucracy.

Am afterthought: I would be even happier if the federation elected to leave the EU.

The Smallest Competent Authority revisited

Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil: in its worst state, an intolerable one. (Thomas Paine)

This is what I wrote in March 2011.

Having entered the seventh decade of my life I often find myself becoming very cross with those who are running our country. Indeed, the whole process which once seemed so reasonable now seems awful – mendacious, self-serving and (most importantly) grossly inefficient. Over the years I have come to believe the following statements:-

It is beyond the wit of man properly to govern the sort of complex, multi-layered society in which we, in the UK, now live (or we aren’t as clever as we think we are!).

The form of representative democracy that we have in this country no longer works in the best interests of the people as it fails to meet the needs of many members of the electorate and has handed too much power to central government – as opposed to parliament – and to innumerable unaccountable bodies.

If, as seems likely, the problem is one of scale then the solution is to reduce the size of problems until they are small enough to be understood. Small problems, analysed as close to the source of difficulty as possible, with decisions being taken at as local a level as possible are far more likely to result in sensible decisions being made. Put it another way: all decisions should be taken by the smallest competent authority accepting that that could be anything from a town or parish council to the a multi-national authority such as the U.N.

* * *

After that blog appeared, I received a very interesting email from Marek Kubik which included the following.

“From reading your more recent blog posts I see you’re a fan of local governance. Breaking down the problem into smaller chunks and making it easier to solve. I can see the logic behind this, but I also didn’t see consideration for the potential pitfalls; namely:”

He then lists three points which I would like to take one at a time. The first is this:

“Centralisation is arguably better for efficiency (as one amalgamated office for say, the treasury is more efficient and cost effective to run than a separate one in every constituency).”

My first reaction is that this is not always true. Clearly where the requirements are identical in all respects (such as all the branches of a chain of opticians) and there are no local variations, savings can be made by centralising design and purchasing. However, that is generally not true when it comes to governance. Areas are different: they have different needs, different local suppliers and there is likely to be a difference when considering what the people of the area need and want. This is true even within the NHS. Every hospital has (or I assume has) a stand-by generating plant. Should they all buy the same model or even from the same supplier? I would argue that the answer is ‘no’. For a start, not all hospitals would need the same size of generator – so there can be no ‘best’ manufacturer to cover the entire range. Secondly is the question of the proximity of a service facility: If you are the western end of Cornwall you do not want to rely on a service engineer coming from, say, Bristol.

Here is the second. “Letting my engineering background shine through, a local based government system could be considered sub-optimal from a systemic point of view. The sum of local optimums may be worse than a single global optimum. By this I mean if every local community only looks out for and funds itself, the poorer communities will struggle most. Under a centralised system the taxes from the funding can be coordinated that the wealthiest constituencies can be redistributed to the poorest. I guess I’m talking about the concept of ‘the greater good’ here, and that is something that I guess depends very much on your political philosophy as to its relevance.”

Here I absolutely agree in that Marek hits on a problem that would arise unless it were to be properly addressed. My preferred solution (at the moment and very much work in progress) is that all income related taxes and property taxes should be collected on a local basis – both personal and business – whilst VAT, Customs and Excise and other taxes should be centrally collected. In this day and age of computers that should not present any administrative problems (but would, of course, if the IT is unreliable). One of the functions of central government would be to administer a levelling grant to local areas based on a formula taking into consideration a range of factors (each area’s average income, population, etc). Incidentally, at this stage I am deliberately not defining what I mean by ‘a local area’ as that is a complex subject requiring more consideration.

Marek’s third point was: “Re-emphasis on localism could potentially detract from national unity. This sounds like a very authoritarian statement from someone like me (I’m slightly left of centre and slightly libertarian on the political compass), but what I mean here is a danger of different laws and legislation being ratified in different parts of the UK. So, to take an extreme example, one liberal area supports and legalises full rights for gay marriage, and a very conservative one overturns and outlaws it.”

Yes, but that is the whole point. To put it bluntly, what is localism? Looked at on a global scale, were there a global authority which pronounced on, say, gay rights I would hazard a guess that there would be more against such rights than for. Whether or not that is true, I would be most upset – I am also a libertarian but swing wildly between left and right as I go from subject to subject – if gay legislation ion this country were to be reversed as a result.

All of which assumes, of course, that if the local authority is a major tax raising authority it will be taken more seriously by the electorate – but that again is another subject.

* * *

Reading through that piece again today, I remain convinced that central decision making far from what we have come to call ‘the coal face’ is at best inefficient and at times utterly wrong. This is true, I believe, in all walks of life, not just the government. There are two problems with it. The first is that the information from said coal face to the decision maker will have passed through a number of hands and some of those hands (if not all) will have an agenda. They may not even realise that they have one but everyone has one even when they honestly do not realise that they do. Indeed, then it is even more dangerous. Anyway, it means that the person who has to take the decision takes it on false data.

Then there are the distortions in the command as they travel back down through the various layers of managers and administrators, each layer will want to see how these instructions fit with their working practices and will seek to amend or even reverse certain parts of the instruction before passing it on.

And we wonder why each and every decisions seems to result in extra cost, a number of (often expensive) unexpected consequences and not very much actually changing in the intended direction. It is, I feel, reasonable to say that these costs are greater than the so-called savings that may or may not be achieved by centralisation.

One final thought which I do not intend to pursue here. Some of us have been discussing a reverse flow of tax. In other words local collection and the amount that filters trough to what would (in essence) be a federal central government would depend on the relative wealth of each locality. This is work in progress,

Not That It Matters

For various reasons, we have created a division of Devonwriters (the name of the partnership within which I work) called Dartside Press. This is because the office is pretty close to the river Dart here in Devon and this division is going into publishing. We can afford to do this because of ebooks. To do so with printed books would be far too costly.

Even then there is a lot to learn and I decided that I wanted something simple on which to cut my teeth. The result is a compilation of some of the political stuff I wrote in 2011 and 2012 – suitable edited and embellished as required. It is called “Not That It Matters” for two reasons. The first is that it seems a pretty accurate title. The second is that it was the title of a delightful collection of essays written by A A Milne who, apart from his children’s books, was a brilliant writer in an era when writing styles were at their most elegant (a personal opinion, of course). Anyway, this was to doff my cap at him (and at his son near whom we once lived and who I knew slightly).

The book is priced at a very reasonable £1.83 but I am afraid is available from Amazon alone at the moment. I have another steep learning curve to climb before we publish in other formats but hope get there reasonably soon. Should you care to know more click here.

My wish list

John Lockwood and I have been holding a discussion on Facebook basically about politics and the need for something new to get us out of the present system which we both feel is not really fit for purpose. I think that is all you need to know to make sense of what is, really, a very long (but I hope not too boring or self-indulgent) response to his last comment in that conversation.

The idea of a party of consensus is one that appeals very strongly to me. It was for this reason that we tried to start a new party which we called Team UK which would have a few core beliefs on which to try to build a culture of consensus. As John put it, “. . . a minimum agreed programme of the most central principled demands (and agree to differ on the rest)”.

He lists his minimum demands as being, “anti austerity, opposing racism, sexism and homophobia and for doubling minimum wage” and immediately we hit a problem (“we” being John and I not agreeing on something). I go with all he says (and want to add a few more but I’ll come to that in a moment) but I do not go with anti-austerity. Before John’s sword cuts my head off, I want to embellish that as it is possible that we agree more than it would seem on the surface.

Every family has to live within its means. To me the UK is a big family (with the usual mix of the good, the bad and the ugly) and if it is to be able to look after those members of the family that need looking after it, too, has to live within its means. That is not because I want the rich to get richer – it is because I want to be able to afford to do the right thing by the people who need our support. However, in order to do that we must stop throwing money down the drain. The old saying “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves” is still a truth. Restrictive practices – be they caused by private sector employers, government or workers – should not be allowed to waste precious resources. So, yes to austerity but not by way of removing support from the infirm or vulnerable.

As to opposing racism, sexism and homophobia – I want nothing to do with any group that does not consider those to be the most basic of core beliefs so there John and I are totally at one.

In a later comment John said, “It strikes me as fundamental to capitalist economics that you can’t (sustainably) sell a commodity for less than cost of (re)production.” Well, yes, it is. No matter whether the production unit is in private or public hands, it remains fundamental that you can’t (sustainably) sell a commodity for less than cost of (re)production. So, where does that lead us? For a start please remember that I did not argue with John’s requirement for a doubling of the minimum wage. It follows that I believe that a part of the cost of anything should include a decent living wage in return for labour (in whatever form that takes). Furthermore I like the phrase “Labour power is a commodity” because it lays it on the line. Hopefully it is rather more than that but I trust we all know what we mean here.

So the problem is not that people are not paid enough but that people are not charged enough for some of the things they buy. This is especially true of dairy farmers (remember I am a very rural animal and I think in rural terms). They are not, of course, “labour” in the sense that John uses the term, However, they are extremely lucky, thanks to the bargaining power of the big supermarkets, to earn a positive rate per hour let alone anything approaching the present minimum wage. But – and this is often forgotten – it is us, the people, who give our business to the supermarkets knowing that they are screwing those supplying milk (and other things) but we don’t care. We don’t make that link.

Another little example. I was writing a report for a medium size company back in the 1990’s and the workers were in dispute with the owners over the annual pay rise. Obviously the workers wanted a bigger increase than the owners were offering and matters were getting rather nasty. People tend to talk to me and the consensus amongst the workers was that the owners were taking far too much out of the business and could easily afford the increases being demanded. Because of the work I was doing I was privy to the company accounts (although I couldn’t talk about them – that would have been most improper). Actually, the offer on the table was calculated on the basis that the profit margin would drop and that the shareholders (it was a family business with the shares owned by five people) were perfectly happy to see their dividends cut for what they thought was a good cause – cut to the extent that had they sold out and put the money in the bank they would have been far better off. Since the company was in some difficulty (they survived, by the way, by introducing austerity measures and so continue to be able to employ a work force of about a hundred and forty) they could not explain this to the workers – would have been a huge commercial risk. This is another case of the coin having two sides which is the title of a blog I wrote not that long ago.

Then John said (well, actually this was a bit earlier but . . . ) “I would question whether the tiny minority who hold virtually all wealth will ever surrender simply on the basis of consensus.” He is probably right. Nobody parts with brass unless they have to unless, of course, they are feeling charitable. There are, however, exceptions. I know the mother of a banker – you know, a rich no-good-for-anything banker. She proudly told me that last year (this was a few months back) he had earned just over £3,500,000. That’s a lot of brass. I did a quick mental calculation, “Hmm. And is he happy to be pay, what, £1,800,000 in income tax?” I asked. “Oh, no. He won’t do that – he wants the money to be spent properly. No, he’s giving just over three million to his favourite charities”. Which, of course, means he would still have about an average annual income each month on which to live. I think more of this happens that we know about. These wealthy buggers are like the rest of, a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. They are not all tarred with the same brush but I agree, some are bad and some are ugly.

Now is the time when I say something very clever and explain how we get out of the mess we are in. Well, you will be disappointed. The very best I can do is to suggest a few aspirations – but turning them into doable, affordable policies that do not result in waste and too many unintended consequences is another matter altogether. Here is my wish list. I want:-

  • the creation of an educational, training and employment culture in which all have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
  • the creation of an economic model where stability, sustainability and the mental and emotional well being of the people are as important as growth.
  • the creation of a culture in which small businesses (the key to the provision of employment) can flourish.
  • to reduce dependence on imported energy to a minimum.
  • to reduce dependence on imported foodstuffs to a minimum.
  • the creation of a social culture in which communities thrive on self-help and reduce their reliance on state benefits.
  • the gap in living standards between the richest and the poorest to be reduced to reasonable levels.
  • the weak and vulnerable to be cared for in a proper and fitting manner.
  • the nation’s assets (natural and man-made) to be properly maintained and improved.

What do you have on your wish list?